The VIU Mariners know just how close they’ve come, now, to achieving a goal.
Vancouver Island University’s men’s soccer team is getting ready to start play at the Pacific Western Athletic Association provincial championships this coming weekend (Oct. 27-28) in Squamish.
The M’s (8-1-5) finished the regular season this past weekend with a pair of 1-1 ties on the road, but the results didn’t matter much. VIU had already sewed up the No. 2 seed going into PacWest provincials.
It’s an enviable position. Because the top-seeded Douglas Royals are hosting the Canadian Colleges’ Athletic Association national championships next month, B.C. gets two berths.
“As much as we’re excited to hear that, as much as we hope that happens, we try to keep that from our mind,” said Stephen Ewashko, VIU midfielder. “The biggest focus is winning that first game. We win that first game, we see what the result is and we go from there.”
If all goes as expected this weekend, the M’s just need to worry about winning that semifinal game Saturday against Thompson Rivers University. Rarely is the playoff picture so clear.
“We can take everything we have right now and focus on that first game, where usually going into provincials you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen,” said Bill Merriman, VIU coach.
The TRU WolfPack are a physical team that tends to play the Mariners tough, but the M’s plan to bring their best to the post-season and they don’t think any opponent will be able to match them. VIU has been to two straight national tournaments, winning it all in 2010, and this season has been all about getting back there.
“That was our focus from Day 1, from pre-season training,” Ewashko said. “We didn’t want to hide it, I wasn’t worried about jinxing us or anything like that, I knew we had a strong team. This is when it all counts and this is why we did all that work.”
Most of the core of VIU’s men’s soccer team has played in big games before, and won or lost. But playoffs will be a new experience for a few of the M’s. There are differences between regular-season soccer and playoff soccer, said Merriman.
“They’ll see a lot from both sides of the field,” said the coach. “From our own team pushing them as well as the other teams lifting their game up that one more step. Because obviously TRU knows the same thing we know – you win that first game, you’ve got a great shot at going to nationals.”
Robbie Cochrane, VIU goalkeeper, said his team intends to show what it’s made of at provincials.
“There’s no, ‘Oh, we can do it next game.’ It’s do or die, right? You leave everything on the field no matter what and you run until you can’t breathe anymore,” he said. “We would do anything to get [to nationals] again. Even if we have to take a couple cards, sacrifice your limbs … People will sacrifice anything to get there and I know I will, too.”
So there’s the determination, and there’s the belief, as well.
“We’ve faced every team in the league. I know that we’re better than every team in the league,” Ewashko said. “No matter how it works out, we’re going to fight till the end.”
SOCCER TALK … PacWest announced its year-end awards on Tuesday. Ewashko and Matt Mehrassa were chosen first-team all-stars and Dan Cato, Ben Leggett and Chris Merriman get second-team all-star nods … VIU women’s soccer players Samantha Rodgers and Shelby Walker were named to the league’s second all-star team.